Brown Out

Growing up in Cebu, I always knew that a neighborhood-wide electricity outage was a “brownout”, while a city-wide or, heaven help!, a province-wide one was usually a “blackout”. Take note, however, that I use “usually” because the term “blackout” is reserved for a more serious situation, not only because it covers a wider area and affects more people, but also because the cause of blackouts is usually more serious than a mere brownout. Thus, blackouts are generally caused by typhoons, rebels or, worse, the government (during Macoy’s time), while brownouts were caused by technical malfunctions and “trips”.

The rolling electricity outages I experience in Cagayan de Oro City while vacationing, for instance, was called mere brownouts simply because (1) it was summer, (2) there was a drought, (3) the water level at hydroelectric power plant was extremely low, and (4) it was scheduled by CEPALCO, the local utility. So, even if there was no electricity in the whole city for 8-12 hours at a time, it was still a brownout. A blackout would be that time when they switched off electricity to the residental areas of Fort Bonifacio in 1989…there was a coup then!

Of course, nowadays, nobody in my house wants to use “brownout”, preferring to call every electricity outage a blackout – in line with American usage. Mrs. ‘toy always makes it a point to correct the maids and the BintoyJr when making this “mistake”.

Well, I just want to register my continuing protest to the grave injustice being perpetrated against “brownout” – it’s so much more specific, more accurate than just labelling every tom-dick-and-harry-outage a blackout. I say, we move for the adoption of brownout as a part of the language of the land! America be damned!



  1. What is with this post, man? It’s not that the term is in line with American usage, it’s that it’s the correct term for when the lights go out. Besides, when the lights go out, things go black, not brown.

  2. As I pointed out in the post, “brownout” is a term for a specific kind of power outage, more specifically, the cause thereof. So that when we say it was a brownout, we immediately feel a lot less anxious than if it were a blackout. Limiting ourselves to blackouts simply because it goes black when the lights go off misses the point – that Cebuanos enjoy coining terms for specific instances, nevermind that they do not jive with reality or that they are anathema to the American-inspired English that most Filipinos subscribe to.

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